Election lies: All that glitters isn't gold


Asenga attended a rally for his local Member of County Assembly (MCA) candidates in Namanga. He felt compelled by the speaking skills and promises made by a particular political aspirant.

Thereafter, Asenga went online and posted messages in favour of the individual on his social media channels.

However, years later, he bore disenchantment after realising that nearly all of the political promises of the MCA candidate were fake and designed to fool voters into selecting him. Disillusioned, Asenga skipped out on the next general election and chose not to vote.

As we enter into the final months of our Kenyan election season, social media is awash with ponderings about why we as voters believe repeated perceived falsehoods.

It seems like voters around the world, whether every five years here in Kenya or every two years in the United States, parliamentarians gather crowds and speak at rallies. Promises are thrown out left and right often with little basis for ability or intentions to follow up.

Sadly, our human brains did not evolve with the innate ability to differentiate fact from fiction. Human survival and global dominance hinged largely on three aspects. First, superior intelligence as compared to other species.

Second, opposable thumbs that enabled our ancestors to make and use tools and build. Third, our ability to socially integrate and live in large family and clan groups.

Inasmuch, our social nature of working together to survive in a harsh ancient wilderness is why humans evolved natural gullibility. Compare us to other species.

If at the Maasai Mara, observe how a lion's pride attacks a zebra or wildebeest. The other zebra and wildebeest could easily band together due to their sheer numbers and collectively attack the lion pride.

But instead, those animals are not evolved and socialised towards collective defense except in random occasional instances. So, the lions pick off and eat zebras and wildebeest one by one over and over again.

Family, clan

To build the psychological cohesion within families and clans, our brains became quick to identify with those we perceive as on our side and protecting us.

Someone within our group tells us a story, we are much more likely to believe it and not analyse it critically. Our responses to others are hard-wired in our brains to enhance long-term bonding with those close to us.

In the ancient world without the benefit of technology, a group that follows a leader that builds cohesion stands a far greater survival chance to defend against marauders, find prey, and escape natural disasters.

Such quick action against immediate threats did not require the pondering and discernment of truth-seeking thousands of years ago. Such meditative brooding could lead to sudden death as hyaena encircle children playing on the savannah.

But in this election season, how do we overcome our bias to believe the most charismatic and humorous speaker?

First, recognise that as a human, you have a partiality towards fascinating alluring individuals. No matter how objective you think you are, your brain is not programmed for objectivity, as discussed above.

Second, understand that no matter how magnanimous someone is, it holds no bearing on their integrity or truthfulness. So, break down what you hear from someone and ponder what exactly you feel about others and why.

Examine whether your opinions about them are based on logic or emotions. Dishonest politicians and uncouth advertisers count on voters and customers not taking this step in order for them to manipulate their victims.

Bias and logic

Third, social media analysis expert Jacktone Momanyi recommends actively fact-checking what one hears and reads for accuracy and truthfulness.

Piga Firimbi and Google Fact Checker are useful free tools whereby NodeXL and BrandWatch are excellent paid software to dissect which influencers are sourcing and spreading rumours and false information.

Remember our affinity for bonding and believing those we like was key to our ancient survival.

But in the modern world, such gullibility is outdated and harmful. Take steps to break free of bias and base our decisions on logic.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor